Friday, November 26, 2021

Crawford-Porter Thoughts And What’s Next


The WBO Welterweight championship bout between undefeated champion Terence Crawford and former two-time Welterweight world champion Shawn Porter was one of the most anticipated fights of 2021 for a few reasons that both revolve around what each fighter could do inside the ring as well as the business landscape of the sport, which like it or not, played a significant role in the bout coming to fruition.


In previewing this bout between two boxer/punchers that were/are among the upper echelon of the Welterweight division, I first stated that I was happy to see this encounter taking place at an appropriate time in each fighter's career, despite the obvious business elements that were involved, which this observer will discuss later in this column. It is after all not often that the sport is treated to a fight between two fighters in the prime of their careers without some form of the business elements that be in the sport at minimum resulting in a delay of a fight being made and at worst such delays lasting at times years. This was simply a rarity where the business circumstances that be as well as the respective timing in each fighter's career ended up being perfect.


With all the ingredients in place, a sold out crowd at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on November 20th was treated to two elite fighters meeting for Crawford’s Welterweight crown, but more importantly to test their skills against each other. A fight that did not disappoint as both fighters showed why they are considered among the best not just in the Welterweight division, but in the entire sport.


Despite the opinion of some that Crawford would be too much for Porter, it was the former two-time world champion who established the tempo of combat immediately by coming out of his corner and throwing a combination at the beginning of the bout. One aspect that I liked about Porter’s approach early on was the tactical aggression he showed early on. While he is known for at times being overly aggressive and lunging in recklessly with his offense, Porter did not do this in the early rounds and I felt he was getting the better of some of the exchanges of offense as well.


Although the challenger was able to establish a slight advantage early in my view, it did not take long for the fight to heat up and for Crawford to also establish himself, particularly as he began switching between and orthodox and southpaw stance, which seemed to nullify Porter’s rhythm in spots and also begin to frustrate him as Porter lunged forward in an attempt to catch Crawford, but ended up running into one of the neutral corners of the ring late in the fourth round. While this was a tactic that Crawford was able to set up and execute in being able to time Porter’s lunge and get out of range, he did not follow up with offense when Porter was momentarily cornered as some opponents may have. Whether this was due to the friendship the two fighters have had since their amateur days and thus a sign of sportsmanship by the champion, or simply a missed opportunity, the fact is that Crawford likely could have taken advantage of the situation in what quickly developed into a very close fight where the two fighters seemingly traded rounds and thus for a lengthy period of time, neither fighter was able to really establish clear momentum.


This carried on through most of the fight and as the bout entered the later rounds, I actually had Porter ahead slightly on my unofficial scorecard. It was one of those fights however, that due to both the styles of the two fighters as well as how the bout was being fought that it was easy to see how potential scores could vary based on an individual’s own view and interpretation as to what was taking place. At the conclusion of the ninth round, I had Porter up by a single round. Rounds eight and nine were the rounds where the champion began to ever slightly turn the ebb and flow in his favor and it was that momentum that set the stage for what turned out to be the final round, round ten. It would be Crawford who would find an opening early in the tenth round by finding an opening to drop a lunging Porter with a short counter left uppercut.


This would be followed by a short combination of blows to the head that sent a frustrated former champion Porter down and pounding the canvas in that frustration with his fists. Although Porter showing the champion’s heart he has had his entire career got up from the second knockdown and informed the referee that he wanted to continue, Porter’s father and trainer Kenny Porter threw the towel in the end the fight giving Crawford a tenth round stoppage victory.


An illustration of just how close this fight was can be seen in the official scorecards as two of three official judges had the champion up by a single point going into the tenth round. While I had Porter up by the same margin, it does show how competitive this fight was and how opinions can differ as to who might be ahead in such a close contest.


Now, the issue of the stoppage of this fight. It is important to remember that even though Shawn Porter had been knocked down previously in his career, notably in the late rounds in his fight against Errol Spence in 2019, he had never been stopped going into this fight. For his part when asked during a post-fight interview as to why he stopped the fight, Kenny Porter stated that he did not like his son’s preparation going into the bout as his reasoning for stopping the fight. 


Although I unfortunately have made a habit on a regular basis through the years in referencing just how long this observer has covered the sport, this was a first for me in the sense that I have never heard a trainer in the amateur or professional levels of Boxing claim their reasoning for stopping a bout was due to how they felt about their fighter’s preparation going into the fight. While this certainly could simply be an answer given in the heat of the moment, did Kenny Porter do the right thing?  In fights where there are two knockdowns scored in a single round against one fighter, that round is usually scored 10-7 in points. Keeping in mind that Porter was down a single point on two of three official scorecards going into the tenth round, it would have been difficult assuming he was able to survive the tenth round for him to earn a decision victory or a draw without scoring knockdowns of his own in what would have been rounds eleven and twelve.


From my perspective, I felt Porter should have been allowed to continue. It is indisputable that the ebb and flow of the fight had shifted clearly to Crawford in round ten and he may have well been able to either force a stoppage via a third knockdown or getting the referee to step in and stop it had the fight been allowed to continue. Porter was very competitive throughout this fight and based not only on that, not only on how close the fight was, but also his skill level throughout his career as a cornerstone of the Welterweight division, he deserved the chance to see if he could turn the fight around, in my view. Did Kenny Porter make a mistake both in stopping the fight and his explanation afterward?


Only Porter himself can say why he made the decision, but it is important to keep in mind that Boxing history is full of stories of fathers training sons that subsequently for one reason or another did not work out well and turned into splits between those pairings not only in terms of the sport, but in their private lives as well.  It seemed that Porter acted more as a father looking to protect his son rather than a trainer who felt that his fighter had taken too much punishment.  While it is certainly understandable why a father would look to protect their offspring in such a situation, it is the type of circumstance that can lead to break ups.  As for Shawn Porter, he surprised many after the fight during the post-fight press conference by announcing his retirement from the sport after thirty-six pro bouts at thirty-four years old.


Porter has established a career outside the ring as an expert commentator for various networks broadcasting Boxing. He certainly does not need to compete anymore if that is what he truly wants to do and does have his health in tact. It remains to be seen however, if this decision was an emotional one based on being stopped for the first time in his career as well as the way the fight was stopped.  Perhaps the decision also has to do with certain business elements in the sport, in certain fights not being made based on promotional/network interest rather than what is good for the fighters involved, which have an effect on fighters beyond what goes on in the ring. Nevertheless, Porter is a great representative for the sport of Boxing, has always given his all inside the ring, and is a valuable voice that will benefit the sport going forward as he continues his broadcasting career outside the ring.


As for Terence Crawford, This victory was another statement making performance, but one that came against a fighter who was long aligned with the Premier Boxing Champions group of promoters and as a promotional entity, the PBC does not have a history of allowing their fighters to fight fighters outside of the PBC banner on a consistent basis. While this observer has long been critical and will continue to be so of such an approach as recently, PBC fighters have not faired too well outside of the PBC banner, which only lends creditability to the idea that holding those fighters back based on promotional/network interest, the business elements that be in the sport, does more harm for those fighters in the long-term than it does benefit them, it will be interesting to see what Crawford does next.


The Crawford-Porter bout, which was an exclusive pay-per-view event in the United States through the ESPN+ streaming network/platform represented Crawford’s final fight under his current promotional agreement with longtime promoter Bob Arum and his company Top Rank Inc.  It is no secret to those within the sport that Arum and Crawford’s relationship has been strained for sometime and it remains to be seen whether or not Crawford will re-sign with Arum or look to other promoters to seek out fights against other world champions in his division that unfortunately have not been available to him thus far due largely to the PBC model and the group of promoters under the PBC banner seemingly wanting to do business in house. While such tribalism has no real benefit to the sport, until something changes, that is unfortunately what fighters in Crawford’s position will have to deal with.  As for the pay-per-view event, it was not a success from a business standpoint generating between 130,000-190,000 total buys at a $69.99 price point.


Although it is worth noting that this pay-per-view card came at a point where the pay-per-view model has not been a success on a consistent basis for those promoters that continue to rely on such a model and that unlike most pay-per-view attractions, this event was broadcast exclusively through the ESPN app through ESPN+ and was not available through traditional cable/satellite telco providers here in the United States. It is also worth noting that the Crawford-Porter card was positioned during a run where there have been several pay-per-view events that have either taken place before this card or will be taking place in the weeks to come including the recently announced Heavyweight themed card that will be promoted under the PBC banner that will be held in Hollywood, FL on New Year’s day 2022. All those cards with the exception of that New Year’s day card, which will be priced at $39.99 have been priced at or around $70 or above.


It is no secret to longtime readers that yours truly routinely points out the flaws of the PPV model and will continue to do so. Although this card was a rare pay-per-view card for ESPN, I believe the buy rate is directly related to not only the inflated price point, as has been the case with many other pay-per-view cards over the last decade and a half, but also the fact that consumers now have access to reasonably priced subscription-based streaming options including ESPN’s own ESPN+ digital sports network and digital sports streaming network DAZN.  While yours truly holds out hope that the continued dwindling buy rates for such cards will finally force the promotional hold outs and network hold outs to accept reality that the subscription-based streaming model is not going to go away and adaptation is necessary for their survival in the sport, for now, they will have to continue learning that lesson the hard way in the form of dwindling returns regardless of who is on the card. The solution is not going to come in the way of higher price points that lack value for the fee the consumer is asked to pay. It is a shame because ultimately, it hurts the fighters who are lured by the idea of making significant money in the form of a percentage of pay-per-view buys. As I have said before, something needs to change.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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